The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church's Complicity in Racism

The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church's Complicity in Racism


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An acclaimed, timely narrative of how people of faith have historically—up to the present day—worked against racial justice. And a call for urgent action by all Christians today in response.

The Color of Compromise is both enlightening and compelling, telling a history we either ignore or just don't know. Equal parts painful and inspirational, it details how the American church has helped create and maintain racist ideas and practices. You will be guided in thinking through concrete solutions for improved race relations and a racially inclusive church.

The Color of Compromise:

  • Takes you on a historical, sociological, and religious journey: from America's early colonial days through slavery and the Civil War
  • Covers the tragedy of Jim Crow laws, the victories of the Civil Rights era, and the strides of today's Black Lives Matter movement
  • Reveals the cultural and institutional tables we have to flip in order to bring about meaningful integration
  • Charts a path forward to replace established patterns and systems of complicity with bold, courageous, immediate action
  • Is a perfect book for pastors and other faith leaders, students, non-students, book clubs, small group studies, history lovers, and all lifelong learners

The Color of Compromise is not a call to shame or a platform to blame white evangelical Christians. It is a call from a place of love and desire to fight for a more racially unified church that no longer compromises what the Bible teaches about human dignity and equality. A call that challenges black and white Christians alike to standup now and begin implementing the concrete ways Tisby outlines, all for a more equitable and inclusive environment among God's people. Starting today.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780310597261
Publisher: Zondervan
Publication date: 01/22/2019
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 46,045
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Jemar Tisby (B.A., University of Notre Dame, Mdiv Reformed Theological Seminary) is the president of The Witness, a Black Christian Collective where he writes about race, religion, politics, and culture. He is also the co-host of the Pass The Mic podcast. He has spoken nation-wide at conferences and his writing has been featured in the Washington Post, CNN, and Vox. Jemar is a Ph D candidate in History at the University of Mississippi studying race, religion, and social movements in the twentieth century.

Table of Contents

The Color of Compromise uses history to present a jarring picture of how the American church has helped create and maintain racist ideas and practices. In doing so, readers begin to realize just how far back and deep the problem of race and the church goes. But the book doesn’t just look backwards; it looks forward to a future of improved race relations and a more racially inclusive church. But because Christians have worked so hard in the past to divide and separate based on race, believers today will have to work even harder to foster equity and unity. The introduction explains the book’s premise by unpacking its title and its relation to King’s “I Have a Dream” speech where he uses the phrase “the fierce urgency of now.”

Chapter 1- Making Race: The Colonial Era
In the early years of the European colonization of North America, the racial caste system had not yet been rigidly defined. Indigenous people, Europeans, and Africans ranged from free, to indentured servants, to slaves for life. During this period, white Christians grappled with questions of evangelism. If a person of color converted to the faith did he or she become an equal? Should slaves who were now Christians be granted freedom? This chapter explores how Christians in America began to excuse racialized slavery and even participated in its formation during the seventeenth century.

Chapter 2- Christian Slave Owners: Antebellum Era
Over time, slavery became increasingly common and regulated in North America. Christians became slave owners and often failed to see the contradiction between their faith and owning people as property. Growing denominations (like Baptists) punted the question of slavery to the civil authorities and nationally known Christian leaders (like Jonathan Edwards) held slaves without apparent contradiction. This chapter details how racism became staples of American Christianity as slavery became an American institution during the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries.

Chapter 3- With God on Our Side: The Civil War Era
By the mid-eighteenth century, the nation faced a sectional conflict about the perpetuation of slavery that would end in a bloody war. The Civil War pitted North against South and those who wanted a country that maintained slavery against those who, for various motives, did not. Both Union and Confederate forces thought God was on their side. This chapter explains how Christians in the Confederacy sanctified slavery and tried to make racism sound righteous.

Chapter 4- Taking Back the South: The Lost Cause, Redemption and Jim Crow
After losing the Civil War, white southerners had to find ways to explain their defeat. They couched their plight in theological terms that made their side seem like tragic victims. Although their cause had been just, they had to suffer through the “Lost Cause.” But Christians who wanted a return to white racial dominance dubbed their crusade “Redemption” as they attempted to return to what they lost. They recast slavery in the form of Jim Crow and used the Bible to defend the inferiority and segregation of black people. This chapter shows how Christians processed the Civil War and adapted their beliefs of racial superiority in the years from 1865 to 1945.

Chapter 5- On the Wrong Side of the Fight for Equality: The Civil Rights Era
By the middle of the twentieth century, African Americans and their allies became increasingly public with their protests of Jim Crow inequality and brutality. They began boycotting, marching, and rallying for their basic civil rights. Instead of siding with African Americans, however, conservative white Christians resisted their efforts. Both silence and outspoken opposition to these protests characterized Christians in this period. They vigorously obstructed integration and often populated racist organizations like the Ku Klux Klan and the Citizens’ Council. This chapter details the tumultuous Civil Rights era from its rumblings in the 1940

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The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church's Complicity in Racism 4.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 18 reviews.
T-Henness More than 1 year ago
I received an advanced copy to review. I've never read a book like this or seen this information presented in such an accessible way. I found this to be an excellent overview of the history of the American church alongside key economic, political and social developments that influence the church's complex relationship with race/ism. >There was a lot of history that I was already familiar with (for example, that the Bible was used to support slavery and to keep slaves obedient) that this book provided concrete examples of (e.g. historical examples of exactly how scripture was used in this way and the struggles that abolitionists faced in refuting this twisted thinking). This helped make history come to life and helped me better understand how past arguments in the church are still shaping current perspectives and fueling division. >There was also a lot of history that I had not heard before. Some very difficult to read historical accounts of violent racism and some equally infuriating explanations of the subtle ways (e.g. coded language and implicit biases) in which racism is still alive and well in the church today and how it is keeping us apart. Things I didn't expect from this book but really appreciated were: 1) A loving call to unity in the beginning, as the author points out that the purpose of facing the truth of history isn't to shame and blame, but for the church as a whole to acknowledge and repent so we can heal together. Plus a very encouraging final chapter and conclusion that points the reader toward "What now?" The author gives some examples of how we can actively help break the cycle of complicity and encourages us toward courageous faith in anti-racist work. 2) Wonderful historical accounts of God's faithfulness to the oppressed, from His revelations to the "invisible institution" of Christian slaves to the faithfulness of the black church in spite all odds. It really glorifies God to learn even a little bit about how God historically worked for His people, even while the majority of the white American church worked against them or just ignored their suffering. 3) How readable it was. Don't get me wrong, the subject matter is challenging and the book is uncomfortable. But that is because this book presents the history of racism in the church so clearly. There are a lot of historical facts, figures, dates, references, quotes, and the footnotes are thorough. This could all lend itself to dry and heavy reading that is difficult to wade through. I think the author's voice helps makes the hard truths and history very accessible. Stories of key figures, events, court cases, etc. throughout history are really well told in such a short amount of pages. Definitely recommend to all Christians who are struggling to understand why we have a "race issue" in the church today and/or want to know what we can/should do about the racial divisions in the church. We can't move forward if we don't take an honest look at our past first to know where we came from and what issues we're really dealing with. I believe this book will help believers who are beginning to awaken to the call to anti-racist work to be better equipped.
PDeArmond More than 1 year ago
The Color of Compromise by Jemar Tisby pulls together how the (white) American church has responded to issues of racial justice since the foundation of the country. It surveys a broad range of topics throughout the centuries, including Jim Crow and Civil Rights era, revealing patterns of how the American Church compromised with Biblical definitions of justice and equality. Most of us are aware of the church’s problematic history with slavery. However, this book’s forte is when Tisby points out the less extreme patterns of how the white Church justified the institution of white supremacy throughout U.S. history, how we consistently compromised the overarching message of love, redemption, justice and restoration with a system fixed on oppression, marginalization, and power. The white evangelical church, an institution that venerates American heroes, should relearn our sobering history from the voices of the marginalized, if only to live more grace and compassion-filled lives in the present. What would we have done in the era of Martin Luther King, Jr., especially now that we can see how we respond in the era of Black Lives Matter? Tisby points out the differing responses to the Watts riots of 1965 from Billy Graham and MLK. Whereas MLK understood that the riots did not stem from a single incident but were instead the propagation of decades of neglect and brutalization of Watts residents by whites, Graham advocated a “law and order” rhetoric and advocated for tougher laws. He considered the rioting in America as the start of anarchy, whereas MLK said that “a riot is the language of the unheard.” As the book points out, Graham’s rhetoric led many white evangelicals to be skeptical of the Civil Rights movement and to ignore the context of years of systemic racism from their understanding of current events. It is no wonder that moderate Christians largely opposed MLK while he was living, despite his popularity in modern-day America. Tisby summarizes many of the paradigms that white Evangelicals have adopted to understand our worldview. He goes on to explain why these beliefs lead to skepticism about systemic racism and tend to perpetuate racial problems. The last chapter of this book deals with practical solutions to racial justice within the church. The Color of Compromise is a much-needed addition to conversations about how the Church has fallen short and what types of ecclesiastical reparations are needed to build bridges. This book is being published at an interesting time in the course of the white American church. Most recently, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary released their own report about their disturbing history of racism within the Seminary, two decades after the SBC renounced its own racist roots as a denomination. This book comes at a time when the younger generation is leaving the church (the so-called “nones”) because, while they have no interest in culture wars, they are longing for that deeper spiritual connection and community committed to issues of Biblical justice but haven’t found it in a religion more known for its alignment with a political party. As an example from last year, following the deadly 2017 Charlottesville rally, where racists openly marched in the streets without hoods, #EmptyThePews began trending on social media due to the general lack of response from white Evangelical leaders and churches. As the book repeatedly points out: racism doesn’t go away, it simply evolves.
pepperjack2 More than 1 year ago
Most of the book is a historical review from colonial times to the present day regarding laws and church efforts (and mostly complicit silence) to further racial injustices. However as the author states, “...paradoxically although this is a book about the past, this is also about the future of the American church.” If we have not learned to love our neighbor, how can we say God is with us? In addition the author encourages us to use the same diligence in understanding the historical and cultural context to our current day practices and policies. Most ‘students’ of scripture do this to apply its principles and dictates to our 21st century life. We should understand the roots of ‘white flight’ to the suburbs, zoning laws, Moral Majority, the intended victims of income tax cuts, etc—besides the splits of church denominations and the cozying up of church leadership to political power. Jemar Tisby ends the book with tangible and actionable steps to involve believers and churches and denominations in the ‘urgency of now’ to diminish racism, racial injustice.
CareyMom More than 1 year ago
This book is a must read for those wanting a concise summary of the history of race relations in the American Church. Mr. Tisby outlines distinct moments in our history where we could have stood up against the sin or racism, but instead we chose to be complicit. This book is also hopeful. It outlines the current state of affairs of the Church and gives specific ideas about what we can do to change course. We as Christians can show the world that we are different, but it requires knowledge of the truth, confession and repentance. This book helps in this process. These are hard truths to read, but they are so necessary.
Alexander Mailhot-Beutel More than 1 year ago
Let’s be honest, I fit all of the categories of privilege in the United States; I am white, male, evangelical, married, US born citizen, and college graduate. Needless to say, my American experience is very different than that of people of color in the US. Thankfully, Jemar Tisby’s book provided not only an education on the history of race in my country, but also a call to live courageously in the face of ongoing racism. Passivity has stunted the United States church’s ability to speak against the issue of racism in our nation. While I cannot rewrite the deplorable history of the church’s complicity, I can move forward in courageous opposition of racism with eyes wide open to the painful reality of my country’s past and to the potential future of a just and equitable society. This book should appeal to all who call themselves Christians, but specifically to those of privilege who think that race is no longer an issue in the 21st century. Humbly learn from a brother in Christ! Tisby is not someone trying to stereotype or demean; yet, he does not sugar-coat the church’s guilt or shy away from the horrors of racism. Rather, he reminds us that “we have the power, through God, to leave behind the compromised Christianity that makes its peace with racism and to live out Christ’s call to a courageous faith.”
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I did not know who Jemar Tisby was before reading this book, nor had I heard of “Pass the Mic.” As one who has had an increased interest in the discussion of racial reconciliation in the past year, I looked forward to reading this and, now having finished it, am glad I did. In addition to growing up in the suburbs in a middle-class (perhaps even upper-middle class) family, I did not live and move in a world where I was discriminated against simply because of the color of my skin. While racism was certainly something I knew existed, it’s not a reality I experienced myself. It’s from this vantage point that I read through Tisby’s work. He rightly notes that “racism never goes away; it just adapts” (9). While I have my suspicions that the current state of the US is as racially divided as social media would have us believe, I do agree with Tisby here: racism does exist. Not only that, even though Christians worked to abolish slavery, the church has historically had a role in its propagation as well. The book is one that is incredibly thorough and well-researched. There were quite a few times where I had to pause in disbelief over how Christians would distort the biblical message to enslave people. My only primary issue with the book is that some of the content seemed repetitive and so could be edited out for the sake of cleaning it up. (I unfortunately didn’t make any records of this while reading it, it was just something I mentally noted). I’m also thankful that Tisby didn’t just leave the book as a survey of sorts but suggested a way forward as well. Grateful for his hard work in this text, and it is one I will gladly recommend to friends. *Note: I received an advance copy of the text in exchange for my honest review and feedback.
Lilrossy More than 1 year ago
This book is hard to read but so worth the struggle. The things that are mentioned in the book need to be talked about. Scripture says that darkness can not hide in the light and I believe that is exactly what this book does. It brings to light something that has been locked away in the darkness for far too long. The American Church has a platform to make a difference and if they are not, then what good is it. All churches should read this book and then have a what next plan of action. In light of the things that Jemar brings up, what are we going to do? We can’t change the past, but we should surely be learning from it.
LVE 6 months ago
The last chapter of the book is entitled, The Fierce Urgency of Now. In that spirit, this should be required reading in the American church. Important. Needful. Essential.
jesfrs 11 months ago
I remember when I used to think that if we just stopped talking about race, things would get better. I remember when I didn’t even understand what needed to get better in the first place. Then one night, I watched a man die on Facebook live, just thirty minutes from my house. That man was a black man, and he had done nothing wrong, nothing to deserve being murdered by that police officer. I don’t know if it was humanity not cloaked in headlines yet, or the proximity of it happening essentially in my backyard. But something inside me broke wide open. The scales fell from my eyes, and I began devouring information on what I had been blind to as a middle class white woman in the suburbs. What I started learning made my stomach churn and my soul weep. Mr.Tisby has written an invitation. An invitation to each one of us (I’m writing to you, my fellow white people) to understand, in the patient tone of a gentle yet truthful teacher, what exactly so many of us are missing. We don’t know our own history, church. This is a chance for all of us to read an extremely accessible overview of exactly what we are missing, and how we move forward. We can’t unite the Body if we don’t repent. And we can’t repent if we don’t even know what we need to repent of. If you are saying to yourself right now, “I’m not a racist, I don’t need to repent,” then I really challenge you to read this book. To begin to understand cooperate repentance, complicity in evil, and to stop saying, “Not me!” And instead start asking, “How have I, and what can I do now?” I received an advance copy in exchange for my honest review. I also bought another when it was released.
Drelia More than 1 year ago
This is an extremely important work coming out at just the right time. Tisby has accomplished a historical survey that will help the reader from every point of learning about racism in the United States. Whether you're just starting to learn or are further on the journey, The Color of Compromise will open your eyes to the patterns of racism throughout this nation's history. Each chapter takes the reader through a different time period when the American Church was given a choice, to further the cultivation of racism or to undo the sins of previous generations. While at times painful and disheartening to read, there is also hope in this book because as Christians, we follow a God who cares deeply about the sins of racism and white supremacy, who desires repentance and healing, and who doesn't turn away from the cries of the oppressed. Tisby gives the reader great practical steps to take once they've made it from Colonial times to the modern day. The book leaves you wanting to do something, and it's greatly appreciated that Tisby encourages the reader to dig deeper.
EMcCain More than 1 year ago
Jemar Tisby's new book, The Color of Compromise is compelling and insightful. I highly recommend this book for every person studying Christian history in America and every leader of the church. This book is challenging to read because the topic is controversial, challenging, and lamentable. Although the book is not long, it effectively presents an overview of the American church's influence on the development of America's race based political, financial, and social structures. After reading this book, I grieved over the grave errors the church made in deciding to enact race based slavery and then segregation. But, the story does not have to end there. Jemar Tisby's book provides a great starting point for all who want start the long and difficult process of moving the church into a better, stronger future. I think this book would also be an excellent addition in high school, college, and graduate classes studying the history of Christianity in America, the Black church, or race relations. This book provides an excellent introduction to the subject for those who have never studied or thought about the relationship between the church and our country's embrace of a race based society.
Angel Granger-Caploe More than 1 year ago
This book should move you. It should upset you into action. It is a history book, but a rally cry to not sit still there. “The only wrong action is inaction.” This book has a great Intro. & First chapter explaining that the book isn’t to guilt people & also saying people are people, not often just villains. “The longstanding failure among many white Christians to acknowledge ongoing discrimination embedded in systems and structures means black and white Christians often talk past each other. One group focuses on isolated incidents; the other sees a pattern of injustice. To properly assess and move toward a solution to racism in America, both perspectives are needed. Every person makes choices and is accountable for the consequences. At the same time, injustice imposes limits on the opportunities and choices people have.” Unfortunately, this book will hit some nerves & those that need to read it, probably won’t pick it up. Receiving an advanced copy of this book was a privilege. I appreciate the opportunity to review and share my thoughts with others.
KathyBK More than 1 year ago
Time to Leave Our Compromising Ways Behind: This book will help us do just that. In 215 pages Jemar Tisby’s The Color of Compromise The Truth About the American Church’s Complicity in Racism surveys over four centuries of history exposing and exploring the role the American church played in creating, maintaining, and sustaining racist thought and practice in the United States. With 24 pages of end notes to direct further study, The Color of Compromise is a rich resource for better understanding the racial divide in the Church today. “Harsh as it sounds,” writes Tisby, “the facts of history nevertheless bear out this truth: without racism in the white church there would be no black church.” Tisby reminds readers that there can be no reconciliation without repentance, no repentance without confession and no confession without truth. This book equips the reader to recognize and address both the personal and corporate ignorance and indifference that allows this status-quo of division to continue even today and to then begin the work toward reconciliation. For Christians concerned about the integrity of our witness and living with fidelity to the Gospel, this book is a ‘must read’. Our continued refusal to face this history, or to deny or dismiss it and its present day implications, does violence to People of Color every single day. Tisby offers a path to reconciliation, a challenge to leave our complicit, status-quo loving ways in the past, and become a Church that truly represents Jesus well so the Beloved Community may yet be more fully realized this side of heaven.
iamjoymoy More than 1 year ago
I love that this is a more historical look at what has happened to our country as a whole and how that has led up to where we are today as a nation. This book will take us from the “early colonial days, through slavery and the Civil War, covering the tragedy of Jim Crow laws and the victories of the Civil Rights era, to today’s Black Lives Matter movement.” You can disagree with someone’s opinions or beliefs or values but you can’t disagree with someone’s experience or story. So let us listen to the stories and tell our own as well.
Katie-Ward More than 1 year ago
In The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church's Complicity in Racism Jemar Tisby uses a historical survey to show the American Church's complicity in racism from the Colonial Era to present day. With almost 400 footnotes, he provides example after example of the Church's direct involvement (or purposeful silence) in slavery and racist acts. I'm impressed by the accessibility of this book; Tisby does not use complex academic language. While the language was easy to understand, I had to take several breaks due to the heaviness of the topic. The Color of Compromise does not paint a pretty picture rather it is “about telling the truth so that reconciliation—robust, consistent, honest reconciliation—might occur across racial lines” (p. 3). Before we as the Church can move forward towards racial reconciliation, we must recognize the systems created and carried out to this day by our institution. While some systems are obvious, it is important to note, “an honest assessment of racism should acknowledge that racism never fully goes away, it just adapts to changing times and contexts” (p. 189). In addition, I appreciate the historical context provided by this book, as well as the practical suggestions discussed in the final chapter on what we can do today in regards to racial injustice. *Note: I received an Advanced Reader's Copy
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is such an important book for Christians in the US. Tisby gives an overview of the history of the Christian church's complicity in racism in America, beginning with slavery and moving all the way up to present day. Though it was difficult to read, it helps Christians confront the truth of our history. I learned so much about the historical reasons for how we have gotten to where we are today, particularly with regard to the views of conservative white Evangelicals. Tisby doesn't leave you feeling hopeless, however; though he is honest in explaining how the church has been complicit in racism, he also gives very helpful, practical ideas for how to combat systematic racism. This is an extremely important book for this time, and I highly recommend it, especially to white Evangelicals.
MegoByrd More than 1 year ago
This book walks through the history of slavery and racism in the United States beginning with the colonization of the east coast to the present day. It shows the complicity of the church and Christians in the country's establishment and perpetuation of racist policies after slavery was abolished. It lists steps that can be taken presently to move toward and possibly bring about racial reconciliation. It was a very informative and challenging book. I was sickened by the actions and decisions made throughout our country's history toward people of color, especially African Americans. I learned a lot and appreciate the list of action steps I can take in my sphere of influence to potentially make a positive impact.
stephenmatlock More than 1 year ago
This is perhaps one of the most accessible, clear, and gentle book you might read about the history of, and acceptance of, white supremacy and black abasement of the American nation and in the American church. Tisby is an historian and does not shave meaning or impact by using soft words. When you read this, you understand what he is saying, directly: racism in the American church was, and is, a deliberate choice. Nothing that has happened so far had to happen. But the good news is that our American nation and our American church can be changed by the actions of interested and committed people. I would expect that some people might feel this book is personally distasteful or even animated against them--"We are good people. Why do we get told that we're racist?" Tisby is not attacking. He is describing, carefully, what it means to be American, to be Christian, and to be racist, and how the third leg of this stool does not need to remain unchanged. It is possible to be American and Christian AND to be committed to social justice and racial equality. I imagine it might be hard to read for some people--and I'm one of those people. It is never fun to look into the mirror and see the flaws. But, it is delightful to see the flaws and then to see ways to remove those flaws and become more just, more fair, more equal, and more loving. Note: while I received an advance copy to read for this review, I've also purchased multiple copies to give to my friends. Pick this up, and spend some time reading.